Terrestrial Research on Ecosystems & World-wide Education & Broadcast || An Innovative Graduate Training Program

Paige Olmsted (Internship)

Paige Olmsted (Internship)


Should a rainforest be left alone when it could be farmed to feed hungry people? Is it possible to alleviate poverty without exploiting natural resources? Though conservation and economic development have traditionally been at odds with one another, in recent years many local, national and international programs have emerged to attempt to achieve both goals together. On a larger scale this could mean a company pays a landowner to conserve a forest for the carbon it stores, or more locally it may mean rewarding sustainable land use practices (eg. bird friendly coffee) with certified products that can be sold at a premium. We get many things from nature for “free”, such as water filtration, pollination, carbon storage, and these incentive programs are looking at how to incorporate their value (both monetary and otherwise) in decision making. It is a complex ecological and politically charged landscape, but these are the themes I’m exploring in my PhD, which I began in September 2011. Co-supervised by Kai Chan and Mark Johnson, my project will expand upon work I had been doing at Columbia’s Earth Institute for the past several years and which was presented at International Congress for Conservation Biology in Auckland, New Zealand this past December, the Student Conference in Conservation Science at Cambridge University in March, and the Ecological Society of America annual general meeting in Portland in August. Like many students in the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability, I have a diverse background and diverse interests. My undergraduate and master’s degrees are in biology and environmental science and policy respectively, and past jobs have taken me to both poles, the tropics, and many forests, labs, and conference centers in between. Equally passionate about science and how it is communicated, I’ve spent a lot of time at international meetings engaging with policy makers, as well as teaching at the university level, and interacting with younger students in less formal settings. For the past two summers I have been a lecturer to high school students in the arctic about global ecological issues and recently attended Rio+20 with the support of TerreWEB to serve as an advisor to a group of these students who were advocating for polar issues. As one of the themes of this landmark summit was “growing a green economy”, it was a chance to explore the policy dimensions of my research, while also supporting the next generation of scientists and environmental advocates. I’m very much looking forward to being involved with TerreWEB to explore effective means of communication among scientists of diverse backgrounds and to non-scientists alike, thus enabling all of our research to become more meaningful.


TerreWEB scholar Paige Olmsted, a PhD student at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC, attended Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, in June 2012. Paige acted as an advisor for “Students On Ice” (http://soidelegation.com/), a group of young people who are united by a shared experience of visiting the Arctic or Antarctic. Their aim was to put the challenges facing Earth’s polar regions on the agendas of world leaders at the conference by meeting with 12 country negotiating teams, blogging, engaging with the media, and through their official side event, “Students Speak Up for Polar Sustainability”. Paige and the “Students On Ice” appeared in the Hamilton Spectator and since their return have given presentations to over 2500 people across Canada including the TerreWEB seminar series in October 2012.


1. Naeem, S., J. C. Ingram, A. Varga, T. Agardy, P. Barten, G. Bennett, E. Bloomgarden… P. Olmsted et al. 2015. Get the science right when paying for nature’s services. Science 347(6227):1206-1207.

2. Olmsted P, Chan K: “Mace et al.’s review should lead to an improvement in communication among conservation…” Evaluation of: [Mace GM et al. Biodiversity and ecosystem services: a multilayered relationship. Trends Ecol Evol. 2012 Jan; 27(1):19-26; doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2011.08.006].


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